INTERVIEW: Andrew Stafford – Author of Pig City

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I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my heroes recently, Mr Andrew Stafford who is the Author of PIG CITY which is essential reading for anyone who respects Music. In 2014 PIG CITY turns 10 and is being re-released. I’ve been a long time follower of Andrew’s work so it was an interesting insight for me as a writer. I’ve always respected Andrew’s passion for the music he writes about and the accurate way he has managed to describe so many artists that I’ve both loved and hated. To this day I still feel that having Andrew like anything you release as an artist is a badge of honour because he is such a dedicated follower of the arts and is the kind of music writer you can trust because he himself has such a wide vocabulary of tastes.

So here is the interview for you all – be sure to check out all the links and for anyone considering a career in writing or in music, you need to pick up a copy of PIG CITY and get fucking educated.

 

H&W: Your book “Pig City” traces the development of the Brisbane music scene from the early 70’s to the late 90’s giving a full history of the bands (both mainstream and underground), 4zzz, Punk Rock and of course the political climate across the three decades you cover. What was your first overall introduction to the Brisbane music scene and what was your initial spark to tell so thoroughly the story of Brisbane?

[AS]: Well, my parents moved up to Brisbane from Melbourne at the tail end of 1986, when I was 15, and I was just starting to get into punk (in particular) and all things rock & roll generally at that point. In fact my first great love musically was Midnight Oil, which was about as punk as things got for a teenager in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne at that time! They were a political awakening, as well as a musical one – I think it’s forgotten how important they were, really, especially since Peter Garrett went full time into politics. I saw them live and they took my head off.

In terms of Brisbane, it happened organically; I started going out and seeing bands here simply because that’s where I lived. I subscribed to 4ZZZ in the late 1980s; I went out there during the occupation in 1988, after the UQ Student Union tried to boot them off campus. As I got into punk, I became aware of the Saints, probably from seeing that legendary clip of them playing live at Paddington Town Hall (in Sydney) on Rage. And (I’m) Stranded, of course – that was a Rage staple.

I actually discovered Sydney’s Radio Birdman first – their T-shirts were everywhere in those days – though the Saints ended up having a far bigger impact on me. Of course, I’m talking about the original version of the band, with Ed Kuepper – they were way more raw and primal, and soulful, too, after they introduced the horns. Even so, I can’t remember owning Stranded (the album) until at least 1992, when I got my first CD player. I definitely had the Birdman record on vinyl well before that.

As for the Go-Betweens, they were all a little bit genteel for my tastes early on. I was a bit suspicious of anything that featured non-distorted guitars in those early days! So I never saw them in their classic period, either. I probably didn’t warm to them until around the early 1990s.

The original spark to tell the story came when I saw Savage Garden play the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. I was just watching on television, of course, but I was gobsmacked and fascinated by it at the same time. I knew that like the Saints, they’d grown up in the boondocks (the Saints in Oxley/Inala; Savage Garden in Logan) and it seemed like a weird kind of circle for Brisbane to have turned. Plus I couldn’t resist the alliteration – From The Saints to Savage Garden! There was a book I really loved at the time about the New York scene called From The Velvets To The Voidoids, by Clinton Heylin – I don’t know if many people picked up how much I stole from him.

Plus and most importantly there was the whole political element of living in Queensland. It was only a few weeks after I arrived that the journalist Phil Dickie started writing the first of his reports in the Courier-Mail that led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which triggered Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s downfall. That was really formative stuff. Queensland was such an extreme place back then that it had the effect of instantly radicalising otherwise quite normal people.

H&W: Leading into writing of “Pig City” what was your experience with the Brisbane Music Scene and at what point did you start documenting it via your writing?

[AS]: Apart from just being a barfly who (in those days) didn’t actually drink, I got my writer’s training wheels as a staff writer for the street paper, Time Off, from early 1994 to late 1996, filling in as editor a few times when required. It was a good time to be there, because the Brisbane scene was exploding then; all the obvious bands you can think of (Powderfinger, Custard et al) were all coming through, but there were dozens of others – some of whom had more going for them, in my opinion, than the bands that “made it”. It was an incredible time to be in Brisbane, too, although it would be unrecognisable today. I moved to Sydney for a few years after that, and came back at the beginning of the year 2000. Personally I wasn’t in great shape by that point – I had no job and a lot of time on my hands, for all the wrong reasons. I needed a reason to be back in Brisbane, so I found one.

H&W: I want to focus on “The Saints” for a moment – after reading “Pig City” it is easy to tell that you are quite an avid fan of the band. A lot of the material contained in “Pig City” about “The Saints” is well researched and gives an incredible glimpse into the history of the band. How important were “The Saints” to not only you the Author but to the Brisbane Music Scene as a whole?

[AS]: I’ve answered that in terms of my own experience above. As far as Brisbane goes, it would be impossible to overstate their influence or importance. Sure, there were bands in Brisbane before that, and good ones too, but the Saints were the catalyst for pretty much everything that came afterwards. An entire scene formed in their absence after they left for England in 1977. With apologies to Railroad Gin, things were pretty dreary in Brisbane before that! Even though they didn’t call themselves a punk band, the fact was punk was such an important fulcrum for Brisbane in a volatile climate, and the Saints were at the forefront of that. Speaking of which, internationally their importance is only occasionally recognised to the extent it should be: they were doing their thing before any of the English bands, and better than most of them, too. Basically they just took Brisbane by the scruff of the neck and shook the life out of it. Not that many people noticed at the time – they were the proverbial pebble in the pond, but the ripples didn’t take long to start spreading.

H&W: Talk us through your research for the book – was it a hard process in working who and what to include considering the vast amount of music produced by Brisbane?

[AS]: It didn’t seem that difficult at the time! I had a good idea of which bands I thought should be included and they seemed obvious enough. The thing is, there just weren’t that many groups that had really broken to a wider audience outside of Brisbane, and I didn’t want to write a parochial account that would only be of interest to people who lived here and had lived through it. That said, there were some legendary people whom hardly anyone even inside Brisbane had heard of that I wanted to include – Pineapples From The Dawn of Time, the Leftovers, the Parameters. Most people who never listened to Triple Zed have no idea where the title “Pig City” even comes from. Later on, of course, I got a lot of heat from people who were upset that I hadn’t included them, and complained that I wasn’t here and hadn’t lived through that time, etc, etc – which was true; at least up until the late 1980s.

My defence was always that I wasn’t trying to write an encyclopaedia of Brisbane music; that was never the point. It was supposed to be a book about Brisbane, and that’s quite different. Actually, what was difficult was tracking down all those Triple Zed employees for their recollections – but, this being Brisbane, there weren’t too many degrees of separation between them all, once I found the first few!

H&W: Are there artists and various people that you were unable to interview or who didn’t feel comfortable in participating in the project?

[AS]: Daniel Jones from Savage Garden was the only one I can remember actually flat out refusing. He just had no interest in it whatsoever. Everyone else was keen to talk, especially when I explained what the angle was. A lot of people who lived through the Bjelke-Petersen era still wear it like a badge of honour.

H&W: Did you find a common mood or creative state of mind exclusive to Brisbane linked in with all of the bands and artists you interviewed or do you think that the only common connector was the geography of it all?

[AS]: I don’t think geography had much to do with it at all actually, at least not if you mean the physical landscape. I reject utterly that there was ever a “Brisbane sound”, although there are a few who like to claim there was. At bottom I was trying to answer a question; to what degree did growing up in Queensland, and Bjelke-Petersen especially, influence the output of its writers, artists and musicians? The people I spoke to were more or less united in their opposition, but their responses to him varied enormously. These things are never as simple as people make out.

H&W: What was your relationship with the more mainstream artists like Savage Garden and Powderfinger, were you a fan of them or were they merely used as an example of just how successful Brisbane had become at producing some of the most important music in our cultural lexicon?

[AS]: The fact that they had become successful didn’t interest me particularly, although it did provide the book with something of a narrative arc. Their success was partly a by-product of the fact that their music was less insular and more outward-looking than almost everything that had come before it, and that told you a lot more about how far Brisbane had come, in my view. I admired both bands without especially being a fan. Powderfinger’s early records aren’t great and they’re the first to admit it, which is something I respect about them. They really nailed what they were about with Odyssey Number Five; that’s a good album. So is Vulture Street. They both get a spin in my house occasionally.

H&W: I guess focussing on those bands – Powderfinger and Savage Garden – for a moment, do you think their success and the launching pad for Brisbane as a cultural hit of sunshine is the end result of the hard work done by all of those lesser known underground bands of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s who really pushed through the political intensity in order to pave the way for the modern music scene as we know it?

[AS]: Yes and no. Both were a case of right band, right songs, right time – as is the case for most successful outfits, but that’s not to downplay the incredible amount of hard work that went into their success. Powderfinger built on what came before them at least to some degree. They had to have an Orient Hotel to play at, just for starters. Savage Garden didn’t; they were pretty much a recording project that went straight to stadium stages, so they had no need for a local scene to nurture them. If they had played those smaller stages, they probably would have been bottled off! They owed more to George Michael and Michael Jackson than anything that had happened in Brisbane, and that’s not a criticism at all; that’s just who they were, and their music was a truthful expression of that. I can never understand why people bag them – they were as honest as the Saints, in their own way. Whether you happen to like their music or not in the end is a matter of taste and beside the point. People occasionally complain that they shouldn’t have been included in Pig City at all, but I was trying to write a history, not re-write it.

H&W: This year is the 10th anniversary of “Pig City” – what do you have planned in terms of a re-issue?

[AS]: Not much, in terms of actual content. There’s a new introduction that tries to put the book in context now that Campbell Newman is the state premier. Readers coming to the book for the first time will hear echoes of the past in the present; history sadly has a way of repeating itself. It’s definitely aimed at a new and younger audience. Other than that I’ve pretty much let it be. It’s not updated – the book was only ever meant to be a snapshot of a particular time; it’s not a rolling chronicle. Talking about all the new bands would be almost another book entirely, and I didn’t want to do that. One change I did make was to take out the discography at the back of the original edition, which was kind of a shame, but it had become obsolete in the age of Google, iTunes, eBay, etc.

H&W: In the past ten years since the release of “Pig City” how have you felt about the current scene of young musicians and bands? Do you think that there is substance amongst the modern scene and what do you think the Digital age has done to the Brisbane music community?

[AS]: I think it’s amazing; it’s better now than it ever was. The Saints and the Go-Betweens aside, most of my favourite Brisbane bands live in the present – HITS, Blank Realm, Some Jerks, Lords of Wong, Seja Vogel, Carrie and the Cut Snakes, Kellie Lloyd; every single one of them have or has made really cool records in the last couple of years. And I hope no one (especially my wife!) feels overlooked by my singling those people out. I think there’s more talent here now than at any time since the punk era, across a wider range of genres. People take a lot more chances, because they’re not answerable to anyone at the end of the day. For both better and worse, it’s actually more DIY than it ever was, because (a) record companies aren’t investing in young talent the way they used to, and (b) recording technology is so much cheaper these days, and people know how to use it properly. You can actually make a really good sounding album now for a few thousand dollars. The downside of course was ever thus: it’s all but impossible to make a living out of it. When I say it’s more DIY than ever, I mean bands have to do EVERYTHING. Most bands fall over at one or more hurdles.

I do think HITS and Blank Realm are both absolutely astounding. Both have made phenomenal albums this year. I’m happy to single them both out for special praise and anyone that is aware of my gig-going habits around town knows that. If I was lucky enough to live in New York City in the 70s I would go and see the Ramones every single fucking chance I could, too. I’m just happy to be in Brisbane as long as they’re around; we’re spoilt to have the two best bands in the country (in my opinion) on our doorstep. They are fabulous live bands; their records will last forever and happily they are all extremely nice people, too, so I know none of my babbling will affect them one iota.

H&W: As a writer in 2014, what kind of struggles do you face to keep up with the pace of technology and do you feel that the internet has helped or hindered the accurate documentation of history?

[AS]: Wow, you saved the toughest question until last there. I’m a bit of a Luddite I guess. I adopted Twitter a while ago, that’s pretty indispensable for a journalist, but I’ve only been on Facebook for a bit over a year. I hated the whole idea of it for a long time, but eventually I realised people weren’t going to stop using it just because I didn’t happen to approve. I didn’t get a so-called smart phone until well after they first appeared, either. It’s held me back in some ways compared to younger writers coming through. Overall, I’d describe myself as a late but enthusiastic bandwagon-jumper.

As for documenting history, the answer is both. The speed of it pretty obviously comes at the expense of both intellectual rigour and accuracy. On the other hand, it’s more accessible to a wider audience than it ever was. People are both more and less informed at the same time. Unfortunately they have a tendency to believe everything they read, and usually think they’re smarter than they actually are, too; probably myself included.

 

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Interview Conducted By: Dan Newton

Andrew Stafford photo taken by Richard Waugh – http://richardwaughphotography.com.au/

On Saturday 9th August 2014 Andrew will be speaking at the Brisbane Powerhouse in relation to the 10th Anniversary of PIG CITY – you can check out the following link for more details

http://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2014/08/09/pig-city-from-the-saints-to-savage-garden10th-anniversary/

ALBUM REVIEW: “HIKIKOMORI” by HITS

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I’ve attempted to write this review for the past few months but after seeing so many other fine humans say better and more poignant things about the second album from HITS – which is called “HIKIKOMORI” – I started to wonder what was left to say. The problem is there is a lot left to say but what I want to express is hard to document in mere paragraphs because I’ll either overcomplicate it or get tangled in my typical verbose mumblings so I’ve opted to keep it simple.

It needs to be said – and I’m joining the fucking choir on this one – that HITS have made the best rock n roll record of 2014. The joy I feel when I’m listening to this record at full volume is a beautiful kind of catharsis. The fury of it all infects your atmosphere and you erupt into a pure state of being as a result. There is so much cool dripping from this record, the kind of cool that I’ve attempted to reach as a human being and it is the same cool that attracted me to punk rock in the first place. That desire to somehow mimic the soul and the swagger of it all and to accurately express all that is painful with existence through wit and inebriated rage looms large on every track of this album. Each song truly nestles into the power of saying “fuck you” and “fuck the rules” without the need for clichéd fashion statements. I’ve never had the hips for that kind of swagger but I’ve made a career out of collecting that kind of cool and storing it in my soul so that I can at least talk about the passion I feel for artists who communicate all that is right about rock n roll and HITS are master communicators of the rock n roll language.

When I listen to “HIKIKOMORI” I want to be as cool and effective as Stacey and Tamara, the way they kick out the fucking jams remains to be a lesson in what it takes to be a rock n roll star. I’m a biased fool with this band based on my love of the roar that erupts from the guitar playing of these two humans who so accurately shred with passion and rage.

Here I am though doing what I promised to avoid, getting tangled in my mumblings – so I’ll race to the finish line and leave you with this conclusion. The world is full of manicured ideas and soulless empty calories but when you listen to HITS you’re reminded that for every bad example of rock n roll there are those who get it right and who manage to restore your faith in loud guitars and punk rock once again. The world needs more bands like HITS because they are the ultimate tour de force and have the ability to rock the fuck out and in the process they will help restore peace to the galaxy.

God bless the fucking lot of them

10 Trillion Cassette Tapes out of 10

By: Dan Newton

Useful Links:

Bandcamp: http://conquestofnoiserecords.bandcamp.com/album/hikikomori
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HITSGALORE

 

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Beauty Of Destruction” by Devil You Know

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The debut album from DEVIL YOU KNOW is a fantastic display of how powerful, melodic, intelligent and emotional modern metal can be. The album is aptly titled “The Beauty Of Destruction” and is an incredibly dark journey through the tortured and complicated mind of Vocalist Howard Jones who soundtracks these rather technical metal landscapes with his unique and rather dynamic vocal performance. The music side of things was composed and conceived by the legendary John Sankey (Drums) and Francesco Artusato (guitar) who prove that after years of dominating the heavy metal underground they are ready to crossover in a big way.

Already known for his work as lead vocalist with Killswitch Engage and Blood Has Been Shed, “The Beauty Of Destruction” has Howard Jones sounding refreshed and delivering a career defining performance. The instrumental side of things on this album and the technicality and riffage are flawless from a composition standpoint but it really is the vocals that create the unique flavour for DEVIL YOU KNOW and in the process helps to separate them from other modern metal bands. The way Howard can rush from a whisper to a scream and then to a delicate croon followed by a tortured aggressive howl is more impressive and more confident on this album than his previous work with Killswitch Engage. It is to the point where he almost sounds more comfortable and more challenged by the material he was presented by Sankey and Artusato which is a sign that DEVIL YOU KNOW has the potential to grow and evolve certain aesthetics showcased across this album.

There is a real side one / side two feel to this record and it is best consumed as one whole piece. Individual songs can give you a glimpse of what to expect but out of context they don’t relay the whole emotional journey that “The Beauty of Destruction” presents. The album has many highlights but the song I continually put forth as my favourite is the second track “My Own” which blends the aggression, darkness and divine melodies of DEVIL YOU KNOW perfectly. As mentioned though, this only tells part of the story because the band uses so many of the established metal aesthetics with the kind of intelligence that comes from humans who see the success of a good metal song being not just its ability to be heavy and technical but also its ability to be catchy, groovy and downright infectious. The fact that the band manages this but makes things so dark and twisted really is the crowning achievement of this debut movement of songs. The production of Logan Mader really deserves mentioning because he has managed to keep things raw whilst still providing a gloss that makes for maximum high definition enjoyment.

Any seasoned appreciator of heavy metal will no doubt find extreme pleasure with DEVIL YOU KNOW who prove that sometimes the most revolutionary step forward for the genre is great songwriting. I know this record ultimately marries the sounds its creators are renowned for but it is the confidence and the sincerity of it that makes it a refreshing and exciting listen. It has an infectious ability to haunt you long after you’ve listened to it and sets up DEVIL YOU KNOW for a very fruitful and successful career of melodic metal.

By: Dan Newton

Useful Links:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Devilyouknowofficial
Twitter – http://twitter.com/DevilYouKnow
YouTube – http://youtube.com/DevilYouKnowOfficial
Instagram – http://instagram.com/devilyouknowofficial

ALBUM REVIEW: “The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas” by Courtney Barnett

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The music of Courtney Barnett is the sound I’ve been waiting for my whole life and it’s taken me the last 12 months of my life to try and find the time to sit down to express as to why. In that 12 months Courtney has managed to do two things, combine both her EPs into one full length release titled “The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas” and also become a worldwide musical sensation. I’m somewhat overwhelmed at how important her music has become to the world because in that same twelve months her music has soundtracked my own little universe and given me reason to feel excited about the future of music. Although I sat and read about her rise to fame and watched her recent US and UK performances via YouTube (including her appearance on Jimmy Fallon) it still didn’t register that it was the same artist I was listening to. I almost felt like she was still my little secret but after having another little YouTube journey watching her most recent performances it finally hit me that the Courtney Barnett revolution is finally upon us.

I’m not quite sure what revolution looks or feels like in the digital age but I know that Courtney Barnett is carrying with her the same degree of excitement that Kurt Cobain did back in 1991 and I think this time around the world is a little more prepared for the cultural re-structure that will follow once she finally releases her proper Debut album later this year. I know most reviews focus on the whole Bob Dylan reference point and all of the lo-fi goodness that artists like Kim Deal had / has but to my ears the music Courtney makes is way more special than that. I’d be confident comparing her to Lennon / McCartney and as I said above, Kurt Cobain. Her music carries that same kind of special energy that balances creative exploration and solid pop song dynamics. A song like “Avant-Gardener” is a fine example of this and for the life of me, after studying it closely, I’m still unable to pinpoint what spooky circumstances make the song haunt me. Whenever I’m in the vicinity of this song I have to just stop what I’m doing and immerse myself in it until I’ve consumed it in full. I am yet to grow tired of it and like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I believe it is one of those one in a million “Voice Of A Generation” songs that change the way people think and feel whilst also connecting deeply to the pain and angst we all feel in this modern context of life. This does not make “Avant-Gardener” exclusive to now, it is a timeless masterpiece of pop music that will live on and become one of the most influential songs of all time.

This is just one of the many fine examples of Courtney’s creative dialogue and all across this release we see an artist map out the early roots of her unique interpretation of rock n roll. The real power of Courtney’s music lays in the way she mixes her pain and vulnerability with her humour and incredible wit. These songs are real stories that humans can relate to that remind you of the clumsiness of growing up in a confused state of being and the places you are taken in your quest for self-discovery. The world is so starved of honesty these days and have been fed a steady diet of Bullshit for the better part of ten years. The art scenes all across the world have become an incredibly insincere plain of existence so when an artist as stark and as raw and as honest as Courtney Barnett appears on the radar people have no choice but to be hypnotised by the music communicated. It is that honesty that has connected the world outside of Australia to Courtney’s music and it will be both a blessing and a curse because the originality of her sound will no doubt become part of the curriculum for humans with less self-awareness but a better understanding on the quick fix of being a mimic. I guess that’s my smart way of saying that people will think the key to success is ripping her off instead of taking the real lesson of doing your own thing and be honest about the art you create.

I know that the world is in a different place and that a 1991 musical revolution looks different to a 2014 musical revolution. Most of the people reading this will probably stupidly take me literally when I say that Courtney has the power to be to modern youth what Kurt Cobain was to people 23 years ago. I’m not being literal with that, I’m simply saying that Courtney has her own unique pop music language that will change the cultural lexicon and influence the aesthetics of how music is communicated. There will be young humans who start bands as result of her influence and this is the positive part of becoming so popular. This isn’t some manufactured version of reality, it is real and Courtney has the power to make some big waves in the old fashioned way, with music and music only. That is why her sound and presence in the world is so refreshing because for the first time in a very long time I believe it.

In 2014 I promised I wouldn’t hand out scores to albums or music that I review, but in the case of Courtney Barnett I have to say that this album is a perfect 10/10 release. I listen to music because it provides pain relief an gives me the perfect vehicle for escapism and for the last 12 months Courtney Barnett has been one of the artists who have soundtracked these journeys.

We as fans can only rejoice that the rest of the world are now also understanding what is so powerful about Courtney Barnett’s music and I suggest that all serious music fans invest now because this music is on the same kind of revolutionary level as “Horses” by Patti Smith. Fuck, I know I keep saying ridiculous things like this but it is the only way for me to express just how special Courtney Barnett is.

10 / 10

By: Dan Newton

Useful Links:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/courtneybarnettmusic
Official Website – http://www.courtneybarnett.com.au

 

ALBUM REVIEW: “Indie Cindy” by Pixies

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I didn’t become a fan of the Pixies until much later in my life and for the longest time I was merely a casual observer of the genius that this band possess. In 2010 through to 2011 I threw myself deep into each of their previous albums and became addicted to their unique pop music dialogue and I of course in the process started to understand the extreme influence this band had over the 1990’s version of indie guitar rock music. I graduated to fanatic status in 2013 when the band released EP1 with the EPs lead track “Indie Cindy” totally blowing my mind apart. I was also secretly happy at how much dissatisfaction it caused those purist assholes who typically boycotted it. What this new material represented was a band with age and wisdom on their side with the end results being a delicious mix of healthy nostalgia and evolution. To have the band finally release EP1, EP2 and EP3 as one full length album – titled “Indie Cindy” – was the real reward for my “later in life” fan experience.

The negative flipside to all this is the sentimentality people had for the Pixies and their previous albums. This was bound to ruin the experience of “Indie Cindy” for so many and for a while I almost avoided reviewing the album because I couldn’t handle fielding the bummer energy of those people who are eternally miserable and suffering a yearning for their youth. I much prefer the musicians / artists I admire to grow up and make music relevant to their own current emotional intelligence. I’m extremely comfortable saying that “Indie Cindy” is a worthy entry into the Pixies musical legacy. I am also confident that my credibility will be questioned considering I’ve only been a fan of the band for the past four years of my life.

The logistics of legacy aside, this is a fantastic pop album which shows how important Frank Black is as a songwriter. He’s now gone beyond just being an underground indie hero with it becoming quite clear that he’s entering a beautiful era with this new Pixies material that will position him among the great pop song manipulators. The way he can push a song from psychedelic to brash intense punk to bubble-gum pop in the course of one song has always been impressive but on “Indie Cindy” there is more muscle behind it, giving a stronger almost stadium ready vibe to a lot of this material. The real winner on “Indie Cindy” is the delightful movement from the heartfelt swoon of “Andro Queen” into the infectious gallop of “Snakes” – a perfect example of Black’s brilliance and my favourite set of songs on the record.

On “Indie Cindy” The Pixies are releasing music for music’s sake and that joy beams off of each track. Whether they lose or gain fans is irrelevant because they have already done so much to infect the DNA of independent rock music and shape it for the better. I have to be honest and say that when I’m in the mood for Pixies music these days I put on this record because it gives so much more than the previous discography and picks up where the band left us. The songs on “Indie Cindy” are new classics waiting to happen and with hindsight I truly believe that humans will salute the brilliance of this album. I cannot fault it personally and even with the Kim Deal sized hole in some sections it never becomes boring or lacking. Having Kim’s influence on some of this music would have indeed taken it beyond the stratosphere but at the same time the songs do not suffer as a result and I personally yearn for what Kim does with The Breeders moving forward.

In 2014 it is nice to have one of the innovators of guitar rock return with something fresh, exciting and futuristic that serves the legacy and gives us a glimpse at what is to come.

By: Dan Newton

Useful Links:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/pixiesofficial
Website – http://www.pixiesmusic.com

ALBUM REVIEW: “To Be Kind” by Swans

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Ever since I was appointed the world champion of brand aware marketing for DIY indie guitar rock bands I’ve had a dream to be invited to Brisbane’s BigSound music conference to give a keynote speech about my experience in the music scene and how best to succeed. I’m yet to be invited but I have a feeling that if I was I’d give my speech like an avant-garde piece of performance art. The first thing I’d do is provide each member of the audience with a cupcake upon entry to the auditorium so they had something delicious to munch on and then once everyone was seated the lights would go out. The overhead projector screen would then light up simply with the word “This” and one by one the stage would fill with a range of dancers (of all shapes, sizes and gender) who would have previously been fed adequate stimulants to induce vomiting and extreme bowl movements. The dancers would be unaware of this and as they started to orchestrate their dance moves these stimulants would hit them and very slowly they would excrete a range of vomit and faeces with an intensity designed to illustrate an unhealthy mix of pain and pleasure.

The song playing over the speakers for the dancers to act out this rush of deception would be the opening track – “Screen Shot” – from SWANS brand new album “To Be Kind” and once the final moments of this song wind down the words on the overhead projector would simply change to “You are what you eat” and then the lights would go down and then come up again and I’d run out like Tony Robbins and start my seminar as audience members start to realise that those lovely cupcakes were laced with the same stimulants used to cripple the dancers from performing their dance.

Then from here I’d give a two hour speech cataloguing my diverse journey as a world champion DIY indie guitar rock marketing guru and the real test would be to see who could use mind over matter to survive the same fate as the previous mentioned dancers. This would be an exercise in proof pudding illustrating that the key to success is perseverance over adversity and the obstacles that life present you. Who ever remained and survived would win a special mentor session with me and my team of marketing experts.

As a record, “To Be Kind” is a flawless piece of art that is a fine example of how humans need to be making guitar music in 2014 and beyond.

By: Dan Newton

Useful Links:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/SwansOfficial
Official Website – http://younggodrecords.com

 

 

SHOW ME YOUR RIFFS – Volume Ten – Bianca Valentino

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When I started Heavy and Weird there were a few different people who inspired me to do so. One of the main humans responsible was a local writer by the name of Bianca Valentino. I had been a fan of her writing for a good number of years and I admired deeply the way the way she would conduct her interviews, especially the ones contained in her Conversations with Punx series. The joy of Bianca’s work stems from the fact that she is a true communicator who understands the value of listening to her subjects. When Bianca interviews someone she not only illustrates a great degree of respect by doing a heavy amount of research but she also goes out of her way to construct a series of questions that boycott the laziness of copy and paste journalism. Bianca is a fearless leader who uses love and light mixed with her own vulnerability and darkness to chase her own passion in order to bring to the world some of the greatest writing ever. Further to this she is an incredible mentor to many, myself included and I’m constantly on a journey to be as powerful and as effective as Bianca but in the process to nurture my own individual voice.

I was lucky enough to interview Bianca for my Show Me Your Riffs series and I’m incredibly excited to share this with you as it is a brilliant insight into Bianca as a person and a true master class for anyone wanting to be a writer:

 

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H&W: For those who don’t know who you are, introduce yourself:

BV: Hi! I’m Bianca Valentino. I live on the Gold Coast. I create zines, enjoy writing, love interviewing people and have a lot of fun doing art stuff, especially screen printing shirts with my favourite person ever, Jhonny (Mystery School). I adore hanging out with my mini foxie dog friend, Vincent and I Love listening to records, reading biographies, watching documentaries and thrifting. I’m the creator of the blog, conversationswithbianca.com and have had my work published in Rolling Stone, art and design magazine No Cure, on Everett True’s Collapse Board and I’m a staff writer for Tavi Gevinson’s teen girls’ mag, Rookie. I do collaborative projects with awesome LA-based publication Sound Colour Vibration too. Very soon I will be writing for a couple of other outlets: a collective of kick ass female creatives from around the world and the other is a fashion collective. I believe in self-empowerment and betterment through self-knowledge, DIY, Magick and PMA.

H&W: How did your journey with journalism start?

BV: I started out making my own independent publications – zines – when I was 15-years-old and it grew from there. I started writing for (now defunct) Brisbane street press Rave Magazine in 1997, reviewing live shows, music and interviewing musicians (I did around 200 live reviews and 400 interviews for them). The editor gave me the green light to write for them after I had a meeting with him and showed him my zines. I contributed to the publication for around 15 years mostly doing all the punk stuff.


H&W: Your resume is full of a lot of really engaging interviews where your subjects really go deep and open up to you. What is your process when it comes to conducting a meaningful interview with an artist and what level of discipline does it require?

BV: Thank you Dan. I’m glad you enjoy my work, it means a lot. What you’re doing with Heavy & Weird is pretty cool too. It’s nice to read thoughtful, lengthy features online. I like that you don’t follow formulas or rules and that you don’t just copy and paste press releases and content from other sites. Both you and your writers exercise your own opinions and write from the heart.

As for conducting meaningful interviews, I believe that the following is important: curiosity, lots of research, genuine interest in the person you’re interviewing and their work, solid questions that haven’t been asked of them before, listening is very important and using your intuition. I was watching an interview with journalist/media personality Larry King the other day and he said, “I never learnt anything while I was talking.” I think that’s a great thing to remember, I feel the same way. I’m also really good at tuning into people’s energy. I seem to find people to interview at really interesting, challenging times, often when they’re at turning points in their lives.

Knowing as much as you can about your subject is important. The more you know, the easier it is for you to go wherever the conversation takes you. A lot of books on interviewing that I’ve read have said that the journalist should be in control of the conversation, I don’t believe in that totally though. In my mind we’re both artists and it’s as if we’re working on a collaboration together. I’m not into fulfilling the artist’s publicist, labels or management’s agenda. I am mindful of what the artist is promoting and working on, but there is so much more to an artist than what they’re selling. As you’ve observed, I like to go deeper. I find the best conversations happen when you don’t have a rigid agenda. Depending on which publication I’m writing for, it can also influence the way I do the interview. I’m lucky that I get to write for a variety of publications that have different tones and personalities that enjoy and value my work.

When it comes to my work I’m pretty much always on, always absorbing stuff, always keeping notes. I am constantly working on my craft. Reading and watching lots of interviews helps you to get to know what works and what might not, question-wise, in interviews. I always keep a note book and pen with me too, because I’ve found that inspiration strikes often when you least expect it.

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Bianca with Tavi Gevinson

H&W: As an artist yourself, do you find that it is easier to connect to the people you are interviewing because you understand and respect the unique process involved with creative communication – regardless of whether the subjects medium is art, music, fashion etc – and how do you as a writer gain that respect from the artists you speak to?

BV: I think one of the biggest reasons I connect with people I’m interviewing is the fact that I care and my questions show that. As I’m sure you’re aware, sometimes bigger artists do days of pretty much nothing but interviews, so the same stock standard questions most mainstream publications and media outlets ask, get tiresome. When they get to someone like me with fresh, thoughtful questions that show I’m knowledgeable about their body of work and career they get excited and are more than happy to open up. I want to talk about what the artist wants to talk about. An interested interview subject will engage with you. I don’t shy away from asking tough questions either. I have a lot of creative friends and I like to interview them, so if you have a pre-existing relationship with someone that can also produce an engaging interview. Same goes for interviewing someone repeatedly throughout their career, you build trust and connection. Over time I’ve become friends with many people I’ve interviewed, which is nice.

 

H&W: I’ve been a big fan of your writing for quite a while and one of your most engaging pieces of writing has been your Conversations with Punx project. How did this project come about?

BV: I’ve always been inclined to lean towards mysticism, ancient knowledge, the esoteric and the spiritual. As a kid I had a lot of books on myths, ancient civilizations, witchcraft, and stuff like that. I am incredibly fascinated by history and documenting things. When I started the project I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was questioning a lot of things, like people and situations in my life, most of all myself. I had some bad people in my life that didn’t have my best interests at heart, when people show you who they really are you should believe them. I have a tendency to see the best in people and focus on the positive which sometimes can get you in a not so great place; I’ve learnt to find a nice balance these days. At the time I started to search for something more, something better than where I was at. I decided to explore that through the medium I knew best—punk rock. I did my first interview for the project in 2003 and now in 2014 I’m pretty sure I’ve done my last interview…I did it only a few weeks back and it was really powerful, revealing and made me face stuff that I’d been pushing down deep inside myself and that was blocking me to finishing the project. That conversation kicked my ass you could say.

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Copies of Bianca’s Conversation With Punx Series

H&W: With the rise of the digital age, we’ve seen the dumbing down of engaging and meaningful communication. How do you keep your message full of light and love in an era that no longer favours depth and intensity?

BV: Well, what’s the alternative to having a message of light and love? I have no interest in the opposite of that…I’ve experienced too much pain and negativity in my life that I have consciously chosen to fill my life with love and light and to promote that. Have you ever read the book, The Four Agreements? One of the agreements is to be impeccable with your word meaning, “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.” There’s already too much negativity in this world, I will not add to that. I will do what I do regardless of trends and what everyone else is doing. You know, I have bad days just like everyone else but everyone doesn’t need to know my problems, they have enough of their own. I’m a pretty private person and I get conflicted about how much of myself to share, especially online. I have a hard time being in the spotlight, I like my work to speak for itself.

 

H&W: In 2011 you were the Zine maker of the year. How important has fanzine culture been to your creative evolution and in the digital age, how important is it to keep the underground music scenes alive through this vehicle of communication?

BV: Most of the time I feel like an outsider amongst outsiders…to be honest I’ve never felt part of the zine culture so much. I started working on remedying that and trying to get involved more with other zine makers by starting the zine collective, Paper Cuts Collective with zine dudes I know, Staples and Matt Limmer. I really love Justin George’s zine, Wasted Opportunities and I love fellow Rookie contributors Suzy X’s stuff and Brodie Lancaster’s Filmme Fatales.

 

H&W: What connects you so deeply to the art that you write about and why is art so important to your existence?

BV: Art needs to move me in some way, if it doesn’t I’m wasting my time. I get things pitched to me all day long by PR people, management and labels. It’s very rare I connect with what they’re selling. I’m online every day actively seeking out new music and art. I love mixtapes and mix-CDs too. If someone has taken time to lovingly curate a mix, more often than not it’s going to rule.

As far as my own art, I’ve been exploring what I can do creatively. It’s not even always about the final product of the art, it’s about the process and the connection that comes with sharing. Until now I’ve always been kind of scared to share my own art. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by such talented people who I always saw as true artists and well…I didn’t think of me as one at all. I just make stuff. I’m getting better at owning what I do. I had a really interesting conversation with my friend Ian from Japanther about this last week, you can read it here: http://conversationswithbianca.com/2014/06/07/japanther-interview/

 

H&W: Who has been the most influential person in your life when it comes to your writing?

BV: There’s a few. Anthony Bozza, if I could write half as well as him, I’d be happy. Everett True has helped me a lot to be more confident in what I’m doing; I joke with him too that I usually do the opposite of what he suggests, or how he does things…his passion for music and championing of female artists is incredibly inspiring. Tavi and the contributors at Rookie are just the greatest extended family a gal could ask for; each one of them is crazy talented and inspire me every day with their work. I cry reading Rookie all the time because it resonates so much with me. My homie, Erik Otis from Sound Colour Vibration has one of the most inspiring work ethics ever and his words are poetry—he really cares about what he does! I’m also inspired by songwriters like Matt Caughthran from The Bronx, Jesse Michaels, Jennifer Charles from Elysian Fields, Elisabeth Esselink aka Solex…I could go on for days here. I love word play and poetic licence. The rhythm of words fascinates me too. In life in general my Jhonny inspires me more than any other person ever has, he’s the most phenomenal soul I’ve ever known.

 

H&W: You’d had the opportunity to interview some of the most influential figures in Punk Rock, how has that helped change and evolve your understanding of what Punk Rock is and circa 2014, what does Punk Rock mean to you?

BV: Punk to me is about: individuality, creativity, posi energy, fearlessness, community and togetherness. I’ve picked up little bits and pieces along the way, there’s too much to explain it all here. When you read my project’s book you’ll get a much better understanding.

 

H&W: If you engage the various music publications, both physical and digital, you find a lot of lazy and clichéd forms of journalism and a lot of negative reporting. What do you think is the main influence of the laziness that can exist in the mainstream music media?

BV: For the most part, I don’t really care what other people are doing. I like to focus on my own work. To answer your question, maybe stuff like writers and journalists not truly caring about what they’re doing, treating it just like any other job…being enamoured by celebrities etc., free perks etc. rather than the actual work and craft. I make my own media and teach others to make their own media through workshops.

 

H&W: How would you describe your dedication to Spirituality and how does this influence your writing?

BV: My writing and interviewing is part of my spiritual practice. I am dedicated to it for life. It is my life. Spirituality is life.

 

H&W: What is your definition of bad music?

BV: As I’ve said before, I like to concentrate on, and promote positive things I enjoy. Bad music is subjective to people’s taste. People can listen to whatever they want. There’s room for everything, except (in my eyes) racist, sexist…you get the picture, kind of stuff. That being said, raises the idea of freedom of speech and free will; should people be allowed to say and think what they want? It’s a complex issue.

 

H&W: What is your definition of bad journalism?

BV: Pretty much the same as what I’ve said for bad music. Getting specific I would add though: cutting and pasting press releases; journalist not asking researched questions; reviews written to a formula, ripping apart something to get attention; misleading headlines…those are a few things that come to mind right now.

 

H&W: What is your definition of bad art?

BV: I don’t like labelling something that has come from a fellow Creatives heart as bad. It might be very important to them or cathartic for them dealing with stuff in life. You have no idea what battles most people face in their daily lives, art is something that can offer relief from that. I encourage as many people as I can to create, especially the ones that don’t believe they are creative. I believe we’re all creative in some way. We’re creations our self after all. I even support my friends that do art whose work I might not personally be into, it’s important to nurture that creative spirit in people and to encourage art. Being an artist has helped me navigate life without killing myself.

 

H&W: With such a rich dedication to the history of music, who are some of your favourite musical acts?

BV: I love people that do interesting things and that are always challenging themselves. I like people that help foster community too. Some favourites off the top of my head are Japanther, Regurgitator, Monsterheart, Mystery School, Le Butcherettes and Bosnian Rainbows, CSS, Nightmare Air, Against Me, The Units, Del The Funky Homospaien, Pyyramids, Little Trouble Kids, Millionaire, Arcane of Souls, Santigold, Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Secret Chiefs 3, 13th Floor Elevators, Mark Lanegan, Gogol Bordello, Chad VanGaalen, Gary Numan, Designer Imposter, PJ Harvey…

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Bianca with Gary Numan

H&W: What projects do you have coming up?

BV: My new Conversations With Punx zine #9 “Magick” will be out by the end of this month. It features chats with OFF!’s Keith Morris, ex-Blondie bassist and esoteric writer Gary Lachman, Wade Youman from Unwritten Law, Ian from Japanther and Don Foose from the Spudmonsters. I also have like 16 interviews in the works for my site. I’m putting the book version on CWP together. I’m shooting to have that out next year.

 

H&W: I believe that an artist’s role within society is to tell the truth. I see all the work you do as not only some of the most vital pieces of communication I’ve ever read but as a work of art itself. To my eyes when I read it, it comes together like a song and is full of different emotional dynamics that help it connect to the reader. In a world that values censorship and fevered egos your existence within the reporting of the art world is a treasured one. How important is it to stay true to your morals and belief systems in an industry that generally favours shallowness and fear? What is your advice to young artists and writers who are trying to make a difference and find an audience whilst staying true to their own truth and moral codes?

BV: It’s everything. Truth is the ultimate. It’s the highest. You can’t escape yourself. You need to be able to put your head on the pillow at night and know you’re living your truth and that you’ve done your best. If you’re not being truthful you’re not being your best. My first CWP zine was called “Truth” because that is super important to me. As far as advice, just do you. Don’t try to be someone else or fit into what you think others want you to be. Write and create from your heart, that’s what will make your work special and yours because no one else can do you. Don’t be swayed by others, think for yourself.

Thanks for this interview Dan. It’s weird for me being the interview subject…ha! Thanks for the work you do at H&W, glad you guys exist.

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Useful Links:

Conversations With Bianca Website: http://conversationswithbianca.com/

 

Interview Conducted by: Dan Newton